Among the many challenges that young women face growing up, perhaps one of the most difficult is learning to value ourselves, take risks, and discover and develop our strengths and weaknesses. While it is essential to teach these skills as early as possible, the reality is that not everyone has the resources or the support system to do so. Luckily, Girls Inc., a nonprofit that centers around female empowerment, is committed to being that support system and helping young women navigate barriers by cultivating a pro-girl environment and providing young women with the necessary tools to succeed.
To learn more about this empowering organization, I had the pleasure of speaking with Miss Lucy Santana, the CEO of Girls Inc. of Orange County, whose passion for this organization comes from her own young adulthood experiences and her drive to help others. In the early stages of her education, Santana did not have access to many resources in her community that could help guide her in her personal and professional development. Like many of us, Santana “didn’t grow up feeling empowered because [she] didn’t have the guidance or opportunities to learn more about leadership” and how to navigate academic and workplace environments.
Santana’s personal background, having experienced the struggles that came with navigating some of life’s most challenging transitions without many resources or a strong support system, played a significant role in sparking her passion for “making sure that the extension of [young adults’] support system is there whether its an adult or a mentor that can coach them and teach them new things.” She has been able to take her experiences and use them to create opportunities and resources for other young women to flourish in school and beyond.
Throughout her early career, Santana’s open-mindedness is what really allowed her to take calculated risks and learn about what opportunities were out there for her. After several years of working with youth, she began getting involved with Girls Inc. of Orange County, where she worked as the Director of Programs, developing and implementing programs like STEM literacy camps and economic literacy camps. Shortly after, she was appointed to become the CEO of Girls Inc. of Orange County where she has led the organization’s growth to expand services and operations that help girls to find their voice in order to learn early on about how to build self-esteem and how to become self-sufficient. Santana’s passion for uplifting young adults and ensuring that “they are getting the additional support that they need and that [she] wished [she] had growing up” is what has made Girls Inc. so important to her.
Girls Inc. provides a support network of mentors for girls in under-resourced communities, and for Santana, it’s necessary to have these networks in order to guide our future generations of girls to become “women who are going to be able to be decision-makers and are going to be in positions of power within their communities,” as she stated. The focus of their mission, according to the organization’s website, is to inspire young women to be “Strong, Smart, and Bold,” and they do that by taking an intersectional approach, which takes into account women’s overlapping experiences in order to understand the complexity of gender-based prejudices that they face, to their transformational programs.
Girls Inc’s. evidence-based programming provides opportunities for girls as young as five years old all the way through college to skill-build in areas that are educational and academically inclined, but also teaches skills needed to become productive adults, which means anything from early literacy, financial literacy, STEM, leadership, college preparation, and career-ready classes!
However, the amazing work that Girls Inc. continues to do doesn’t just stop there. They have also been working rigorously to push for legislation and policies, both at the local, affiliate, and national levels, to increase opportunities and rights for young women. Girls Inc. centers the voices of the girls they serve and provides them with the platform and tools to advocate for social change. These policies and practices largely focus on supporting young womens’ “health and wellness and foster school climates that are conducive to learning for all students, particularly those from underserved communities and those who face discrimination and other obstacles because of their race, color, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or religion,” as stated on Girls Inc. of Santa Barbara’s website.
Girls Inc. is redefining the development of young women nationwide by promoting female advancement to positions of influence where they can have the means and opportunities to elevate not only themselves, but also their families, neighborhoods, organizations, and communities!
To get involved with or learn more about Girls Inc., visit https://girlsinc.org/!
Feature image sourced from Girls Inc. Dallas on Twitter.